Pelé believes Lionel Messi still needs to improve at the international level before he can be considered the greatest soccer player ever, and needs to score more goals to come close to matching the Brazilian great.
The 24-year-old Messi already has won three straight FIFA player of the year awards.
“When Messi’s scored 1,283 goals like me, when he’s won three World Cups, we’ll talk about it,” Pelé told Le Monde. “Football changes. Records are there to be broken, but it will be hard to break mine.
“People always ask me: ‘When is the new Pelé going to be born?’ Never. My father and mother have closed the factory.”
Although many observers consider Pelé or Diego Maradona to be the greatest ever, Messi’s form for Barcelona has him being mentioned in the same group.
Messi scored 55 goals in 2011 for Barcelona and already has 213 in 300 games for the club, 22 shy of Cesar Rodriguez’s team record for goals.
Messi is the club’s leading scorer in the Champions League, scoring in victories over Manchester United in the 2009 and 2011 finals.
“I like Messi a lot, he’s a great player,” Pelé replied when asked who his favorite current player is. “Technically, we’re practically at the same level.”
But Pelé was also quick to point out that Messi has not scored at the same rate for Argentina in big tournaments. Messi failed to score in the 2010 World Cup and Copa America last year, and has a modest tally of 19 goals in 67 international matches.
“He’s a great player for Barcelona, but when he plays for Argentina, he doesn’t have the same success,” Pelé said.
Pelé also believes he may have had more natural ability than Messi.
“No one knew which foot I was going to shoot with, I was two-footed. I also scored a lot of goals with my head,” Pelé said.
However, Pelé knows that the debate over who is the world’s greatest ever player always will divide opinion.
“Some people will say Beethoven couldn’t play the piano. Others will say Michelangelo couldn’t paint and that Pelé couldn’t play football,” he said. “But we all received a gift from God.”